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Trash Inc.: The Secret Life of Garbage

About the Show

Trash Inc. The Secret Life of Garbage
The business of trash has become a 21st century goldmine. CNBC's Carl Quintanilla goes inside a $52 billion a year industry.

Garbage. It's everywhere — even in the middle of the oceans — and it's pure gold for companies like Waste Management and Republic Services who dominate this $52 billion-a-year industry. From curbside collection by trucks costing $250,000 each, to per-ton tipping fees at landfills, there's money to be made at every point as more than half of the 250 million tons of trash created in the United States each year reaches its final resting place.

At a cost of $1 million per acre to construct, operate and ultimately close in an environmentally feasible method, modern landfills are technological marvels — a far cry from the town dump that still resonates in most people's perceptions. Not only do they make money for their owners, they add millions to the economic wellbeing of the towns that house them. Technologies, such as Landfill Natural Gas and Waste To Energy, are giving garbage a second life, turning trash into power sources and helping to solve mounting problems. It's particularly important in places like Hawaii, where disposal space is an issue, and in China, where land and energy are needed and trash is plentiful.

One sure thing about the garbage business: it's always picking up.

Program Highlights

  • McNeilus Truck Manufacturer     Tuesday, 14 Sep 2010 | 12:00 AM ET

    Talking trash is big in Dodge Center because garbage truck manufacturer McNeilus is its largest employer. Starting with a bare chassis and recycled steel, McNeilus produces 60 to 80 trucks per week.

  • Pacific Ocean     Friday, 17 Sep 2010 | 12:00 AM ET

    Captain Charles Moore has been trying to fight garbage in the Pacific Ocean, one piece at a time.

  • New York City Garbage     Friday, 17 Sep 2010 | 12:00 AM ET

    At the Harlem River Yard, NYC garbage gets collected and shipped out of state in the less than 24 hours!

  • BMW     Friday, 17 Sep 2010 | 12:00 AM ET

    Sixty percent of their production plant -- the only one in North America -- is powered by landfill natural gas.

Web Extras

  • America's Largest Landfills Monday, 27 Sep 2010 | 2:01 PM ET
    With more than 250 million tons of trash created in the United States each year, the garbage business in America is beyond big. The $52-billion-a-year industry is dominated by companies like Waste Management and Republic Services. Gone are the days of the town dump. Today's landfills are technological marvels and have even become a reliable source for alternative energy as landfill gases are tapped and sold to businesses and municipalities.Here, we've compiled a list of the 10 largest landfills

    Click to see where Americans are sending most of their heaping piles of garbage and how landfill companies are turning it into pure gold.

  • E-cycling Tuesday, 30 Aug 2011 | 12:28 PM ET

    How much do you know about recycling electronics? Take our E-cycling quiz and find out.

  • Where Does Your Water Bottle Go? Wednesday, 22 Sep 2010 | 2:56 PM ET

    Americans spend about $11 billion dollars a year on bottled water. But after the water is gone, only a small percentage of these 51 billion empty bottles make their way to a new life. The rest end up in landfills, or worse.

Related Articles

  • Using Oil Spill Model to Clean Up Trash from Oceans Tuesday, 28 Sep 2010 | 12:20 PM ET
    Mary Crowley of Project Kaisei, with some of the plastic trash picked up on a voyage

    With an estimated 100 million tons of plastic afloat in the Pacific Ocean already, ocean-borne plastics are a huge environmental problem. But new technology, consumer education and a long-term vision could be coming to the rescue.

  • Garbage Gauge Pointing Up for Trash Stocks Monday, 27 Sep 2010 | 9:54 AM ET
    Landfill

    The latest garbage gauge is pointing to a slow but steady recovery that should see trash volumes turn positive this quarter or next for the first time since 2008.  That should propel profits of trash haulers who’ve been able to maintain pricing power through the recession thanks to long-term, customer-specific contracts.

  • Scrap as an Economic Indicator: Don't Call it Junk! Friday, 24 Sep 2010 | 1:33 PM ET

    If the market in scrap is any indication, the US can recycle the fear of a second recession into a more positive economic outlook.

  • How Green Companies Navigate Complex Trash Laws Thursday, 23 Sep 2010 | 9:50 AM ET

    Recycling is now possible across much of the country, but a complex web of rules—along with corporate and local government desires to be seen being as “green” as possible—can make it hard to figure out what’s really happening to all that rescued waste.  Some companies, like Starbucks, are working to navigate those rules.

  • City of New York Department of Sanitation

    New York City’s quasi-military $1.2 billion Department of Sanitation is the largest such municipal operation in the world.

  • The Real Cost of Managing Society’s Trash Wednesday, 15 Sep 2010 | 12:57 PM ET

    Although most people don’t think about it, the management of solid waste is one of the most critical issues facing municipalities throughout the United States. Challenges arise every day as society tosses out more and more wastes, the number of landfills available for use continues to decline, regulations grow and the cost of providing services increases. Financially and logistically, the management of solid waste is becoming ever more difficult.

Related Links

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  • Carl Quintanilla is an Emmy-winning reporter and co-anchor of CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," broadcast live from the NYSE.

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